3rd Sunday of Advent
(Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18)
Most of Zephaniah comes before the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 586 BC. Yet the words of joy for this Third Sunday of Advent must have been added later because of their proclamation that the judgment has been removed. The Lord has returned as Israel’s true king. It is very difficult to find the joy proclaimed here when the rest of this prophet describes the evils of the proud city Jerusalem, whose ruin the Lord will bring about.
Indeed, this is the prophet who speaks of the “day of the Lord” in stark terms: “A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of thick black clouds, a day of trumpet blasts and battle cries against fortified cities….”(Zephaniah 1:15-16)
Perhaps one could say that with the destruction of Jerusalem and its leaders, the way is paved for the Lord to become king, in place of those who had failed. If one reads what is found earlier in chapter 3, one sees clearly how out of place the cries of joy seem here, unless it was the work of a later scribe, which sometimes happened. Clearly the reading is meant to underscore the theme of joy which is central to the Third Sunday of Advent.
The Gospel returns to the work of John the Baptist, as various people come to John asking him what they should do in response to his call for a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. There is a sure certain comfort in seeking advice from a fellow traveler like John, although he already been identified by Luke as called by God ( “…the word of God came to John…”) so that John wasn’t just any old body. John had the unique role of paving the way for the “One mightier than I,” who is coming.
Meanwhile the crowds of people come to John; so too the tax collectors; so too soldiers (probably not Roman). They all ask what they should do in light of his preaching. His message was plain enough that the people realized his message called upon them to actually do something after hearing his message. Each group was told to strengthen their social responsibility with and for the neighbor in some way. John does not say to go and offer sacrifice in the Temple. Like Jesus, his focus is on how we relate with our neighbor.
The people wondering about whether John might be the Christ, leads John to describe his own understanding that one mightier than he was coming. At the same time John considered himself unworthy before this one who is coming. We are hard-pressed to say whether John had Jesus in mind or some otherwise as yet unknown figure. This is likely a case of Luke arranging the dialogue so that John testifies directly about Jesus before he arrives on the scene, much like Luke arranged the Infancy Narrative to show John was first in both the birth announcement and the birth.
Finally, one of the most comforting passages from Paul comes as he nears the end of the Philippians letter. “Rejoice in the Lord always…I will say it again, ‘Rejoice!’…The Lord is near.” Paul says “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything…make your requests known to God.” Most importantly Paul writes: “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” For those called to preach the mercy of God in Christ, which is what brings about the peace of God, we can never tire of proclaiming Paul’s words here: “Rejoice!”
Fr. Lawrence Hummer firstname.lastname@example.org
Article originally written 2015